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Page Up Ep #14: Writing a Great Title for Your Non-fiction Book


Titles sell books. I wish what sold books was great content. But the truth is people make snap decisions on whether to buy a book – especially a low-cost ebook. Having a great title is one of the most powerful tools at your discretion.

In this episode you will learn:

  • Why having a great book title is so important
  • The one question ever title HAS to answer
  • 10 of the rules I’ve created for myself for writing great book titles.
  • 3 great options for testing your book title and one terrible one!
  • What you need to know about copyright law to protect yourself.

Featured on the Show:

Pam slim arm test – YouTube Video

How to Write a Good Book Title – Blog Post’s Title Scorer

Listen To The Show:

Full Episode Transcript:

You’re listening to page up with Dr. Angela Lauria Episode 14.

Writing a great title for your nonfiction. Welcome to page up a podcast for authors and transformation, featuring advice on the basic fundamentals of selecting a book topic and overcoming writer’s block to advanced techniques for publishing and marketing nonfiction books. Now, get ready to press page up on your book with your host, best selling author and publisher, Dr. Angela Lauria.

Hey, everyone. So welcome back to page up. We are going to talk today about a really, really, really important topic, how to pay a title for your book. Now titling your book is actually probably the most important thing that you will do as an author. If you’re working with a traditional publisher, you may not have the option of your title. In fact, you probably won’t and there’s good reason for that because Your title is the number one most important thing that will determine your book sales. And I know that sounds crazy. But in many ways, it doesn’t even matter how good the book is inside with a bad title. In fact, some of the best books that I’ve read as manuscripts that have come to me from prospective authors. They have been wonderful books with such terrible titles that they would never, ever sell. And so just keep this in mind a good title will sell more copies, then the best book in the world with a bad title. So a book with a good title will sell more copies than a book with a bad title. It doesn’t matter how good it is on the inside. So you have to take some time on this. And that is specifically why today I want to talk to you about some of the rules That I follow in choosing a title or that I recommend to people and choosing a title. Now, I want to say right at the beginning here that this is not my strength. And so I know a good title.

But for my book and for, for many of our authors, I recommend working really hard on this, using some testing tools, and maybe even hiring someone who is awesome at this. So I know the rules, and I’m going to teach you these rules. But this didn’t come naturally. To me, this wasn’t like a skill I was born with. And it’s something that I have to work very hard. And if this is really easy for you. I really encourage you to share in the comments. Some of the things that I’m not even touching upon here that you do. But I’ll tell you like many there are many books out there that came out that are famous books that were released. And their authors, and maybe even the publishers thought the titles were great and they didn’t sell. And they actually re-released the books with new titles.

So for instance, do you know the book first impressions? Probably not that didn’t sell very well, but then they retitled it to one you might know Pride and Prejudice. Much better, right. There was also a book called the birds and the bees, I guess you could guess what that was about. It was not about birds and bees, but it was retitled to a book. You may have heard of everything you always wanted to know about sex, but we’re afraid to ask, the book. All the President’s Men was at one point titled at this point in time, I guess nobody was going to get that book.

So you can see right away when one of the first rules I want to teach you is that being clever, like the birds and the bees will never do as well as being specific with how people think about the problem. So everything you always wanted to know about sex, but were afraid to ask. Now, this has always been the case in book titling. But there’s one major change that has happened. And for most of you who are working with independent publishers, like my company, difference press, or who are self publishing, what you need to know. I think one of the most quintessential things to understand is the best way to sell your book is by having words in the title in the subtitle that are searchable, that people are already searching for. So putting what we call keywords in there, and thinking about the art of search engine optimization. Now, optimizing those keywords for Google is different than optimizing those words for Amazon. Why is that? Well, when people go to Amazon, they have a different frame of reference in mind. They’re thinking about a book or a book genre, a book category, whereas when they are going to Google, they’re trying to solve a problem. So those keywords may be similar, but it may be different.

So I want you to think about when somebody goes to Amazon, what would they be searching for? And you can actually figure this out. Amazon helps tip you off. If you go to Amazon, you drop down to just selecting books, so not all of their products. And then you start to type in words that might be words you want to include in your title. If those words Do not appear in the auto filling field, then they are not among the top most search words. In fact, the most search words will come up first in that autofill in book box. And so those are the words that you want to focus on when you’re coming up with your title.

So first thing I recommend for everyone is come up with a list of keywords and know that one or two of these keywords that people are already searching for in Amazon are going to be included in your title or in your subtitle. So that’s your first assignment right there. Now when it comes to crafting your title itself, the title needs to answer for the prospective buyer. What’s in it for me? This is the quintessential question for any copywriting activity, any bit of marketing you’re doing, whether you’re titling a book or a program or a blog post, or even thinking about posting on Facebook or Twitter.

What’s in it for me, is the question that you really want to ask from the perspective of your reader or your buyer. So the first thing that you want to identify is who is your targeted ideal reader? And obviously, we’ve spent other episodes of this podcast talking about that, but what are they searching for? So you might be calling it food production systems, but because you’re so involved in gardening, but your ideal reader is somebody who thinks of it as a home garden, or a vegetable garden, so it would be much more effective. to have in your title, vegetable gardens, as opposed to home food production systems, because your ideal reader probably isn’t using that.

If you’re writing a book on, you know, project management, becoming a project manager, and you know the concept of being a PMP. But your prospective reader is really just exploring this career for the first time, they probably don’t know the idea of being a PMP, which is the project management certification kind of jargon. So think about their, about their language about the language that your reader already uses.

The next thing you want to do is you want to make them a promise. You want to make a promise in your title, an hour. Come that they can connect with. And you know that the example I always use here is the four hour workweek or the hundred dollar startup. Those are both promises in the book and they have a third quality. So the four hour workweek is obviously targeting entrepreneurs or want to be entrepreneurs. That’s the ideal reader that they’re reaching out to. It has a promise you can have a four hour workweek and then it’s very specific. So it’s not just saying don’t work very much or only work. You know, only work when you want to work. It saying very specifically, you can organize your life to have a four hour workweek. So target your ideal reader. Make a specific promise. And you want to create curiosity. So the four hour workweek has a lot of mystery to it. The title makes you believe that you will learn how to have a four hour workweek. But it also raises questions like, How the hell am I going to talk my boss into this? Or we know is it even possible to make money will I be living in a van down by the river? And it is a reduced out work hour, you know, is four hours of work a week even what I want, why would somebody want that? or do other people have a four hour workweek. So it’s very important to think about how you can create mystery or curiosity with your title.

Now the other thing you want to do if you have a business and especially if you have a business, doing something Maybe that a lot of other people do, like branding or weight loss or helping people write books. And so you want to position yourself. So step number five, as you’re working on your title, is to really think about what makes you different than the other people who do this. So I always use as an example, the book if I’m so smart, why can’t I lose weight? Obviously, that book is targeting the ideal reader or somebody who wants to lose weight. The implied promise is that you will be able to lose weight when you learn these smart tips. The subtitle is tools to get it done, which is very specific. It could be even more specific there. The curiosity factor is right in the question. If I’m so smart, why can’t I lose weight? I’d love to know the answer to that question, but it also positions the author who in this case is Brooke Castillo as a coach, a weight loss coach for smart women. So this isn’t for your average woman, but somebody who is super smart, super successful. This book is for them, it probably has some advanced techniques inside that are really you have to have a certain IQ to grasp.

You know, I talked about writing. So my book is called the difference. But I don’t tell you what the difference is. So that creates that curiosity. And the subtitle is 10 steps to writing a book that matters. There is the promise that you will learn how to write a book. The target of the ideal reader is somebody who wants to write a book. 10 steps are very specific. But the positioning is that this is for people who want to make a difference. So while this book might help you, if you want to tell the story of how your grandmother moved here, from Italy when she was 17, on her own with $2 in her pocket, that’s fine. But I position myself as an author who works with people who want to make a difference in the world who want to change people’s lives, who want to help people to grow and transform.

So those five steps making sure you’re using the keywords my keyword in my title is writing a book. So 10 steps to writing a book that matters. I identified that keyword before I wrote the title. And now a few other tips that I like to follow. The next one is make sure that when you say the name of your book is easy to understand, particularly over audio So the difference is easy to understand if I’m so smart, why can’t I lose weight is easy to understand, you want to make sure that the title that you select is something that will not be garbled over the radio or in some way confused or difficult to hear, which sometimes happens. Um, I like to also recommend that it’s easy to spell. So I was just talking the other day to somebody who was thinking about using the word resilient in her title. And I like the word resilient, but I was a little worried that people might struggle spelling that and being able to find that so easy to spell is nice. The next thing I would do is try to find a title that is five words or fewer than the length of your subtitle. Doesn’t matter as much. But I would focus on a short book title. I love titles like blink or freakanomics, or kind of these one word curiosity, creating titles with a subtitle that gives you the keywords and more information.
The other nice thing that you can put on your list is a word like Freakonomics is pretty special because obviously it includes the word economics, which is this book is a word that is a book about economics, but it also creates a vocabulary. So I try to do that with my book, even with the word with the idea of the difference or making a difference. That’s a vocabulary that travels with me through all of my branding. I talk frequently about writing a book that makes a difference and that means something very specific To me, so vocabulary doesn’t have to be invented words, but it can be words that are on brand that you consistently use.

So one of the books we published is called smarty pants branding. Again, that sets her up to be working with people who are smart, and then also a little bit whimsical. So smarty pants is a little bit you know, tongue in cheek, and it has a style to it that brings people in and it also creates that vocabulary so you can have other smarty pants factors in your business.

The last thing that I would look for in a title is can you get the domain. So pop over to your favorite domain name, purchasing location, and see if you can get either the title of the book, or the title of the book was some additional word like the word book. So I have the title, the So even if you can’t get the difference, you get the, look for something that is very close and again easy to understand over audio. So once you have your book title contenders, the next step for you is to test those options.

And I have two different tests that I recommend. And I’m going to have a one test for you that I absolutely recommend you skip. So the one test I see people do all the time is they ask their friends and family. They post on Facebook, which title do you like better? And this is not a good approach. And let me tell you why. The first thing is people who love you. Like your friends and family are going to try to give back to you the answer that they think you want to hear, because they love you and they want to make you happy. And they may not even be doing this particularly consciously. And so what you will find is that people who are not in the position to purchase your book, in that moment, if you’re not giving them the chance to purchase, they will actually be looking for signs and mirroring back to you based on their experience with you. Whether they know you or don’t know you, but they’ll be looking for little triggers to tell them which is the right answer. So don’t do it that way.

The first test I want you to do, or at least to consider and this is a little bit a little bit weird, um, but I like it actually learned this from jack Canfield, but it’s what I call the arm test and you can actually go on YouTube and if you google Pam’s slim arm test, and I’ll put a link to this in the show notes, so this will be at the Author Incubator comm slash 15 I believe we are on episode 15 if you go Oh, I’m sorry. We’re on episode 14. Who am I? I don’t know which way is up today. So the Author Incubator comm slash 14 and I’ll include the link to Pam Slim’s arm test. I like her version of this.

But what you want to do here is you want to put your arm around out and have a friend with you, and you will push against them, you’ll push up against them. And you’ll be able to hold your arm up, they’ll be pushing down on your arm, you’ll be pushing up against it, and you’ll be able to hold your arm up. And then you’ll say something like, I love ice cream, or whatever is most true for you, and you’ll be able to push against them. And then I want you to say something that you know, isn’t true. Like, I love throwing up and you will notice that your arm will be harder to hold up. Now you can do the same thing with your book titles after you’ve kind of set those levels with your partner. Have them say one book title and what I like you to say is the title of my book is the difference. And then say the other title and that could be the title of my book is how to write a book and see where you have more strength. So you are actually going to know internally what is a better title in your heart. So I love the arm test. So test your titles that way.

And then the other test that I do, I’m going to give you two versions of this: a paid and an unpaid version. But the unpaid version is to take your book title to make it either a blog post or a Facebook post, take the title, put it at the top of the post, either as a title or put it in all caps or put stars around it. And then write a paragraph or two, don’t mention that this is about your book whatever the title of your book is. Just write a paragraph. Not mentioning the book, but on that topic is maybe your top thought about branding. So if your book was smarty pants, branding, your little quote, or your update could be, you know, the best thing that I see in branding these days is when people include women without makeup, I don’t know.

So it could just be a little observation, but title it with the title of your book.And then leave that up for a day or a couple hours and come back the next day and have the same exact observation. But post it with a different title. And you can do this as two separate blog posts. Just take the first one down and put the second one up or Facebook posts or tweets. But just take the other one down, put this one up, people aren’t going to notice, you’d be surprised. Just think you got excited if they do notice, and just look at which one gets more likes and comments. Don’t say these are the things I’m thinking of for my book title.

Now, an even better way to do this is to do this as a paid campaign, where you can mention it that it’s a book, you put the title of your book, you can put your picture like it’s an author photo, and spend 50 or 100 bucks on some ads on either Google AdWords or on Facebook. And what you want to do is put the name of your book, put a little description, maybe just a sentence, and take them to a webpage where you say coming soon, the name of your book, the description of your book and your picture. You don’t even have to have a cover of the book, just put your picture about the author, and then say, sign up for a free ebook, free copy of my book, free digital copy of my book before it’s written. at least and then have an email capture to make the page identical except for the title of the book and run traffic with both titles from the same place. So the ad is the same, the landing page is the same, the only difference in the added landing page or the titles and see which one if you throw 25 or 50 bucks at each ad, see which one gets more signups to be notified and to get the free digital copy of your book.

Okay, that is honest feedback, feedback from friends and family who love you or even prospective readers who aren’t actually in the specific position to buy or to choose your book. That feedback is not honest and will not be as accurate as doing some of these tests that I’ve told you Now, when you are thinking of testing, a couple other things I would recommend the first is positive versus negative titles do better. So if I’m so smart, why can’t I lose weight will do better than if I’m so smart? Why am I so fat? So what I always call this is the metro test. I live in Washington, DC, and our subway system is called the metro. And one of the questions I asked is, would somebody want someone sitting next to them in the metro to see that title of the book. And positive titles tend to attract more buyers than negative titles.

The other thing, which is a little side note is that if you come up with a title that’s a play on words, that’s a pun, or that’s based on another title that will also often give you some leverage or some curiosity. So the War of Art and the art of war. So the Art of War was obviously the first book. But then the War of Art, you know, that’s a great, that’s a great twist. There was a movie that had the catchphrase this one, this one time at band camp. And then there was a book that came out called this one time at brand camp. So you can leverage puns like that, that’s fine. Just make sure you’re remembering the other rules as well.

The last thing that I want to tell you about is copyright. A lot of people are surprised by this. There are no ways there is no way I guess just to be grammatically correct here. There isn’t a way to copyright a book title, you can copyright a series, but two books can have the same title. A lot of people can have the same title. A lot of people get wrapped around the axle about this, I would not worry about it, give your book the best title possible.

Make sure it’s not a series and so it’s not you know, it’s not subtitled or doesn’t, you know, not copyrighted is the word I want. Geez. Um, but really pick a title that you love. And don’t worry if another book has that title. Now, some people use it to try and leverage it for marketing. I don’t recommend that. I think it’s a little cheesy and I think your book will do just fine on its own. But it is good to know that can’t be copyrighted and books can have the same title. Now has a tool that you can use for analyzing book titles. They give you a percentage chance of becoming a bestseller. This tool is based on a study that Lulu did over 700 Best Selling novels. And I do think particularly for novels, this tool is helpful, but it’s also just kind of fun. So in the show notes, the Author Incubator comm slash 14, I will be including a link so that you can test your book over at the title scorer that Lulu has available. And I’ve got a little blog post that I will share with you that I wrote a while back now. That has my rules that I went through here about making a promise creating curiosity. solving a problem busting a myth and using puns. So I’ve talked about some of these on the show. Some of them will be new to you. So head on over to the Author Incubator comm slash 14 and You will see the show notes for writing a great title for your nonfiction book. Check those out, check out the arm test, the blog and the blog post that I mentioned and the tool from for analyzing your book title. I hope you have learned a lot here. It would mean a lot to me if you shared what you learned and share your book title in the comments. So, so that we can all see what an amazing book title that you have. So thanks, everyone. We will be back next week on page up changing the world one book at a time.

This has been another episode of paint shop where we help nonfiction authors write a book that makes a difference. If you like the show today, be sure to tell a friend and leave us a review on iTunes. Check out our sister show book Johnny’s also on iTunes. And don’t forget to sign up for our mailing list at W WW, the Author Incubator dot com where you can learn more about how you can get your book written.

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